What I’ve Learned From Starting an Online Business

by Dr. Alison Chen ND | Follow on Twitter

13 things I’ve learned when it come to writing articles, getting published on major sites and building an online business.

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I run the Naturopathic Doctor Development Center (theNDDC) and my personal website – www.DrAlisonChen.com – and these 13 things I’ve learned when it come to writing articles, getting published on major sites and building an online business.

I’m not an online millionaire.

Actually I don’t make much money at all. There’s no reason for you to listen to me, but if you’ve found my work then I hope that I have made some positive impact on your life and business.

This is the process and I hope you can learn with me as I grow my online businesses.

1. Referencing research as you write –

After multiple back and forth article changes with an editor from a larger online platform, I created my own way of referencing just to avoid the headache (watch the video to see my process)

  1. Get the proper citation in Pubmed by selecting “Summary (text)” from the down arrow beside “Abstract”.
  2. Save your references and the url as you gather notes and write the article in an excel spreadsheet and label them by letters (ie. [A], [B], etc) instead of numerically. (You’ll have to alphabetize them later on anyways, so why confuse yourself with multiple numbers)
  3. Once you have all of the references, move your citation list to the first column in your excel document.
  4. Highlight all boxes with information and then select the A->Z option to alphabetize in descending order. Double check that the letter are in the correct order as sometimes there is a space in front of the name which can screw up the order.
  5. Add a new column and type in the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. If you have a long list type in 1, 2, 3, select the 3 boxes and drag the bottom right corner box until the end of the list (it should continue the numbers automatically)
  6. Now you replace each letter with the correct reference number.

2. Basic sites work best, don’t get fancy –

Often fancy and unique coding in your website breaks with any upgrades to platforms or plug-ins. You don’t need to spend a ton of money to get a fancy site. Basic works and converts best.

3. Collect emails –

Having a big Instagram following or Twitter account is cool, but those social media platforms may not be around by the time you have something to sell. Collecting emails is the safest way to retain your optimal audience and potential customers. Yes, they may change their email address or unsubscribe to your list, but this is the surest way to hold on and effectively reach your list especially when the social media algorithms change every few months.

4. Start now, tweek later and don’t get discouraged –

I’ve been running the NDDC for a year now and haven’t made a cent on it. On purpose. No ads, no affiliates, no endorsements.

If you want to create a trusted and loyal following, it takes time, heart and consistently giving. Majority of feedback I hear is criticism:

  1. You took too long to respond
  2. This article was too short, this article is too long
  3. I don’t agree with what you said so I’m unsubscribing

It’s easy for others to complain. It’s easy for them feel they deserve more, and for free. So when you are the person or team on the other side working their butts off for free or next to nothing, try not to take it personally. In a world of information overload, people free indebted, even if they are good intentioned people.

But it’s important to not get discouraged, don’t focus on the negative and keep putting out consistent work. Know that for every negative comment you will be helping a handful of people. Your site, book or product won’t ever be perfect, so stop waiting. Do a thorough and great job but then put it out. The nice thing about the online world is that you can make changes later as you nail down your audience and the information you’re delivering.

5. Use social media as free marketing –

If you genuinely believe in your work be patient, stay dedicated and utilize your loose connections. Social media is your best audience to turn a loose connection into a loyal supporter and potential buyer. That friend you haven’t spoken to since high school may have a parent or friend looking for a Naturopathic doctor. And even if you haven’t told them you are a doctor, they know and they will think of you when the conversation about holistic health comes up at dinner time.

Social media is also a great place for different groups to find each other and interact. One article posted on the right page, at the right time could bring in a whole new audience that has been searching for your type of information. I experienced this last week.

It took me 3 year to get to 1,000 Facebook fans on my professional page and then within 1 week I jumped to over 14,000 from one of my articles posted on the Hearty Soul Facebook page (without any ad spend). Check out the post that got shared over 10,000 times here.


Within 1 week I jumped from 1,000 Facebook fans to over 14,000 from one of my article posts.

6. Don’t slander you profession, another profession, a person or your name –

Your reputation is EVERYTHING. Period. Even if you don’t believe in what a person or profession believes show respect. If someone is spouting negativity about you don’t lower yourself to their level, rather follow these 3 tips I learnt from Jon:

  1. Always respond on your own platform. Don’t try and argue on their turf (ie. social media, website). You aren’t going to convince a dedicated tribe, the best you can hope for is to educate those who are on the fence on your own platform.
  2. Respond to negative comments once. Don’t get dragged into a back-and-forth battle. Save that for your audience. Respond once in a clear, thoughtful and controlled manner.
  3. Stay calm. When people are emotional they have poor grammar, incomplete sentences and use personal attacks (ie. you look ugly so you must be wrong). Don’t go there.

Instead, take your time and compose a thoughtful and well-written response once. Read it over for spelling and grammatical errors before hitting “enter”. Let your audience be emotional in support of what you stand for, not you.

7. Always give photo credit and never use a stock image –

I learned this lesson the hard way. This year I was emailed by a Photo Stock company that found a photo that I used off of the internet from a personal site that I created 5 years ago as a student.

These companies purposefully put their glossy images on the net for people to google, find and use. They have fancy software to track anyone who has used them. Then they scare you into paying an exorbitant amount of money (more than what would be charged to use the photo in the first place).

Would they have take me to court? I doubt it, but I didn’t really want to take the chance.

So I learnt an expensive lesson and spend $500 on a photo that I don’t use, that was posted 5 years ago, on a site that makes no money. Don’t make the same mistake I did, even if it’s on a site from a long time ago that you don’t use.

8. Very few (if any) ideas are your own –

Unless you are a researcher doing experiments to uncover a novel cure or an inventor, nothing you know, create or think is your own. It’s a culmination of things you’ve seen, read about, studied and experienced.

So don’t think you have to make something that no one else has thought of. I recommend you continue to learn, but inevitably create something from all those bits of information and experiences you’ve been accumulating.

This a big reason why Jon and I travel so much. It allows us to see and experience new things that can change a perspective and trigger new ideas.

9. Support others –

Don’t be stingy with you “likes” or “hearts” or what ever new button is in vogue right now.

If you’ve been following someone and think they do good work, show it and support them. It’s also a great way to get noticed by the other person too.

I recommend anytime someone is putting out a new product, course, book or fundraising event to be the first to support it. Be the one that supports them when they are most vulnerable and stand out in their minds.

10. Put yourself out there –

When I decided I wanted to get published in major online health sites I just started emailing people with pitches. A lot of the time I’d get turned down or get no response at all.

That happened with the Huffington post. I pitched a cold and flu article, and got nothing in response. A month later I pitched again with my “poo article”, and it got picked up! Then after it was published I sent a nice thank you message and pitched another 3 article ideas. And I was offered a blogger account to be a regular attributer.

Other sites I’m still waiting to hear back, but I keep reaching out because at some point they will see a topic that resonates with the editor and the audience. It takes time, persistence and a little bit of ignorance to get me to this point.

11. Be consistent –

I dedicated one year to writing articles. For those who know me, writing is not my forte nor do I especially enjoy it, but for all of 2015, I wrote 2-3 articles per week. Long, well-researched articles on all the basic health topics I could think of.

I made a year calendar and stuck to it, somehow. I made no money writing these and only the hope that a product or book would come out of it, and boy am I glad I stuck to it. I wrote over 100 articles that can now be cut up and made into more concise posts for other major syndication websites and I turned one article into a fun book about poo!

12. Have fun with your writing –

As an ND, I’ve always felt like I needed to be serious. As someone who looks younger than my age, appearing grown up and authoritative has been a priority.

I never shared photos of me in my bikini on my professional page, no way. I’d never use inappropriate language! But the truth is, people come for the information you provide, but stay for you.

People like humans. Real humans that they can connect with and relate to. They don’t want a robot who is perfect and makes them feel bad about themselves. So don’t be afraid to show some of your personality, vulnerabilities and have more fun.

13. Be abundant –

You already know enough to drastically change someone’s life for the better. As NDs, we will always have haters, critics and nay-sayers. But guess what? So does every profession.

Try not to take it personally, do your due diligence to provide accurate and well researched information, and come from a place of abundance. You will always be learning and growing. If you don’t slap your head when you look back 5 years ago about terrible advice you gave, you’re probably not pushing yourself to evolve.

Evolution is medicine, that is science. Use the best resources available to you at the time and continually allow yourself to grow and expand.

If you come from a place of abundance, those critics won’t bother you as much because you are making the lives of people better. Even a basic article on drinking more water could positively affect someone you’ve never met and have never spoken to.

You might just find that 5 years later they write to you thanking you for your advice, or they might show up in your clinic, or they may become a lifelong supporter of you work, eagerly buy your products and refer everyone to your site.

Putting yourself out there has little immediate reward (especially online), but you are slowly gaining people’s trust and planting seeds of health, empowerment and sustainable living. So keep doing it!

About the Author
Dr. Alison Chen ND

Dr. Alison Chen ND graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) and was the recipient of the humanitarian award. Her background in competitive gymnastics, personal training, and volunteer work in Africa gives her a well-rounded view to living well.   Since graduating Alison has traveled the world exploring different ways to think and teach about healing. She believes that education should be consumable and fun, so she created theNDDC and wrote an illustrated rhyming book about poo. Seriously, check out the poo book on Amazon here.